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Lanai is one of the more fascinating islands in the Hawaiian chain because it is so different from the main visitor destinations, both visually and historically. A small island only about 13 miles in diameter, Lanai lies just west of Maui and south of Molokai across a 10-mile channel and is easily visible from both islands. Because Lanai is in the rain shadow of Maui and Molokai, it gets less rain so is not quite as lush and tropical in appearance. In places it looks more like New England or the Pacific Northwest.

The island is a single volcanic cone with its peak, Lanaihale, at about 3400 feet. Below Lanaihale lies a fairly flat plain about 1000–1500 feet in elevation where the town of Lanai City and all the former pineapple fields are located. The higher elevation favors different vegetation, and the island is known for its unique Cook and Norfolk pine forests. Heavily eroded hills make up the perimeter of the island leading to the shore. Much of the coastline is made up of steep cliffs, but there are some spectacular white sand beaches in several places as well.

As most Hawaii visitors know, essentially the entire island of Lanai was purchased in 1922 by James Dole and for over 60 years was used almost exclusively for pineapple production. During that period the island saw very little tourism; in a typical year only about 5000 visitors made it to Lanai.

By 1970 the owners of Dole Pineapple recognized that global economic changes would eventually make it unprofitable to grow pineapple in Hawaii. When David Murdock became CEO of parent company Castle & Cooke in 1985, he gave the go-ahead for the shutdown of pineapple farming and the construction of two exclusive resorts. The Lodge at Koele and the Manele Bay Hotel (now the Four Seasons Lanai Manele Bay) opened in the early 1990s and Lanai went from virtually all farming and no tourism to all tourism and no farming in a few short years. Formerly known as “The Pineapple Island,” Lanai is now officially called “The Private Island,” but it will be a long time before its pineapple heritage is forgotten.

By air: Lanai is served by the two major interisland carriers, Hawaiian Airlines (telephone 1-800-364-5320) and Island Air (the commuter division of Aloha Airlines—telephone 1-800-323-3345). If you like flying in smaller airplanes, Pacific Wings (another commuter airline—telephone 1-888-575-4546) flies to Lanai with more flights than Hawaiian or Aloha (and better views of the scenery).

By boat: If you’re visiting Lanai from Maui, a convenient way to get there is by ferry from Lahaina. Expeditions, which bills itself as “The Lahaina–Lanai Ferry,” has several runs a day between Lahaina Harbor and Manele Bay.

By car: We’re kidding. Just checking to see if you’re awake!

Almost everyone who visits Lanai is attracted by its remoteness, isolation, and sense of exclusivity. Even today with its world-class resorts, Lanai gets only a tiny fraction of visitors to Hawaii. Some people take advantage of that by enjoying activities at the two luxury resorts: swimming and sunbathing, dining at the fine restaurants, playing golf or tennis, horseback riding, or simply relaxing. For those people, the rest of Lanai is simply a buffer between them and the real world.

Others see the uniqueness of Lanai and want to explore it! Most of Lanai is untouched by modern life, free of people, and accessible only by unpaved 4-wheel-drive roads. Unlike the rest of Hawaii where tourists are actively discouraged (or prohibited) from leaving paved roads even in 4WD vehicles, exploring Lanai in a rented Jeep is one of the major tourist activities.

Please refer to the map above. While we tell you about the key locations on Lanai, we’ll give you a pronunciation guide so you won’t embarrass yourself.

First, we should mention that Lanai is officially spelled “Lana‘i” with the backward apostrophe or okina indicating the presence of a glottal stop, as in the way the air stops in the expression “oh-oh!” For simplicity, we leave out the okina in this website, but you properly pronounce Lanai “la'-na-ee” with a glottal stop between the na and the ee. However, although that’s the “correct” pronunciation, even the locals usually pronounce Lanai “la-nye'” (with the accent on the second syllable).

You will arrive on Lanai either by air at the Lanai Airport or by boat from Maui at the Manele (ma-nell'-ay) Bay harbor. Just around the corner from the boat harbor is the Four Seasons Lanai Manele Bay (which is actually on Hulopoe (hoo-lo-po'-ay) Bay) and the Challenge at Manele golf course. The 8-mile road from the hotel to Lanai City passes through former pineapple fields, now fallow.

The quaint little town of Lanai City looks nothing like any town we’ve ever seen and certainly different from other towns in Hawaii. Nestled in hundreds of tall Cook and Norfolk Pines, “downtown” consists of two streets separated by Dole Park, with the commercial establishments in small detached buildings opposite the park. No strip malls here! The residences—small, single-story wood homes common in former plantation towns in Hawaii—are neatly organized along quiet side streets.

Just at the northern edge of Lanai City you come to the Lodge at Koele (ko-ell'-ay) and the Experience at Koele golf course. The remaining paved road on Lanai leads northeast down a winding hillside to the coast. All the other roads on Lanai are unpaved, and if you rent a 4WD you can see a lot more of the island.

The best views on Lanai are from the top of Lanaihale (la-nye-ha'-lay) along the Munro Trail, named for George Munro who was responsible for planting Lanai’s pine trees.

Keomuku (kay-oh-moo'-koo) has the remains of an ill-fated sugar mill which lasted for only a short time around 1900. Nearby at the point closest to Lahaina, Maui, is the former Club Lanai, which until it closed a few years ago was a not-quite-popular-enough day-resort for Maui visitors. The last time we looked it was still available for sale to someone with deep pockets and a lot of imagination.

The northeastern section of the Lanai coast is called Shipwreck Beach because of the dangerous winds and reefs responsible for many shipwrecks over the centuries. Interestingly, the most visible “shipwreck”—still rusting away and one of top photo opportunities on the island—wasn’t really a shipwreck at all. The surplus World War II vessel was beached on the reef in the early 1950s. Instead of breaking up and sinking like similar ships, it’s still there 50 years later.

Heading northwest from Lanai City on another unpaved road, you pass the Garden of the Gods, a unique collection of rock formations. This area is also frequented by axis deer which are common on Lanai. Continuing down a very rough 4WD trail brings you to Polihua (po-lee-hoo'-ah) Beach, a broad, beautiful, and almost totally deserted white sand beach with views of Molokai across the channel.

The other locations shown on the map are too remote even for 4WD rental vehicles, although some visitors undoubtedly find their way to them anyway. Wherever you go, or even if you confine your exploring to the hotel grounds and Lanai City, you’ll bring home some unique memories. So head back to our home page and choose your Lanai hotel now!

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